GOP 2016: The top 10 contenders

GOP 2016: The top 10 contenders

The race for the Republican presidential nomination is heating up, with the first GOP debate just three months away.

Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina and Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonVA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report Homelessness rises for first time since recession Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is the right call MORE launched their campaigns last week, bringing the total number of major candidates to six. More big names are expected to follow.

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Here is The Hill’s look at who is most likely to claim the nomination next year. 

1. Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Richard Gere welcomes lawmakers' words of support for Tibet Dem lawmaker gives McConnell's tax reform op-ed a failing grade MORE (Fla.)

It’s been nearly all good news for the Florida senator since he launched his campaign on April 13. 

Two recent polls, from Quinnipiac University and Fox News, put him at the head of the GOP field.

A CBS News/New York Times poll released just last week gave him the best net result of anyone when Republican voters were asked whether they would consider voting for various candidates. A full 48 percent were open to Rubio, while only 17 percent had ruled him out.

Those figures suggest that Rubio’s prior support for immigration reform has not harmed him among the party’s base. Those who felt that he would struggle to escape the shadow of his mentor and fellow-Floridian, former Gov. Jeb Bush, also appear to have underestimated him. 

The contours of Rubio’s case are clear: a candidate with a compelling story who could appeal to groups with which the GOP has struggled in recent years.

But Rubio’s strong start also ensures there will be close scrutiny coming his way. Will he blossom or wilt under the brightest spotlight?

2. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

The former Florida governor was seen as the clear frontrunner for the nomination only a short time ago. 

His status is cloudier now, though a combination of his name, family network and prodigious fundraising ability guarantees him a place in the top tier.

Bush has had to deal with some disconcerting poll numbers recently. 

A poll of Iowa Republicans from Quinnipiac University released last week gave Bush a dismal 5 percent support in the Hawkeye state. 

A national Fox News poll last month showed him tied in fourth place. He was trailing Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLexington mayor launches bid for Congress Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Meet the Iran hawk who could be Trump's next secretary of State MORE (Ky.), and in a tie with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.  

On the bright side, the main super-PAC supporting Bush’s candidacy, Right to Rise, could have $100 million in its coffers by the end of the month.

3. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Walker leads the field in Iowa in several polls, where a victory could make him the conservative standard-bearer.

His national poll standings have not been quite so impressive of late, however. In a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll at the end of last month, he drew 14 percent backing from Republicans, some distance behind both Rubio and Bush.

Walker’s fight against unions in his home state propelled him to national prominence. And he has been playing up his social conservatism, which has both a policy dimension and a personal one (he is the son of a pastor).

But skeptics inside the Beltway and beyond wonder whether he has the dynamism and charisma to stand out on a crowded presidential stage. 

4. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.)

Paul will be a serious player in this year’s race, but his path to winning the nomination is winding and narrow. How much he can expand his support beyond the libertarian base that backed his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), remains to be seen.

Paul’s performance since he launched his campaign in early April has been inconsistent. The early days of his bid were marked by controversy over an on-air squabble with Savannah Guthrie of NBC’s “Today” show.

Still, the senator’s early poll ratings are encouraging for him. The Quinnipiac poll released last week put him joint second in Iowa, behind only Walker and tied with Rubio. But he’s not doing significantly better than that in the more libertarian-minded New Hampshire. 

5. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

Does the White House have room for one more “Man from Hope,” as former President Clinton styled himself? Clinton and Huckabee share that Arkansas hometown, and Huckabee returned there to launch his campaign on Tuesday. 

He has clear strengths: some of the strongest favorability ratings in the GOP field, a powerful appeal to evangelicals and a high national profile boosted by his Fox News show, from which he retired in January.

The downsides for his candidacy are just as clear. Fiscal conservatives regard Huckabee with considerable skepticism, and his fundraising abilities remain in question. 

6. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE (Texas)

Cruz became the first major candidate to enter the race in late March. 

Since then, he has received a degree of solid support. His best showing among the recent polls in Iowa, where a strong performance will be crucial for him, puts him in fourth place, behind Walker, Rubio and Paul. He is fifth in the Real Clear Politics national average.

Cruz will be hoping that his affinity with Tea Party Republicans will pay dividends. His connections to wealthy donors will help as well. Four super-PACs affiliated with him pulled in $31 million in their first week in existence in April, according to supporters.

Doubts about his electability in a general election could prove a millstone for Cruz, however.

7. Dr. Ben Carson

Can Carson make the transition from hero of the conservative grassroots to contender in the presidential race?

He launched his campaign on Monday and in the days afterward backed raising the minimum wage; suggested that one or more Baltimore police officers “did something inappropriate” leading to the death of Freddie Gray; and proposed ending subsidies to the oil industry. None of those positions appeared aimed at winning over parts of the GOP.

The Real Clear Politics averages, nationally and in Iowa, put him in seventh place. In New Hampshire, he is joint sixth.

8. Carly Fiorina

Fiorina launched her bid on the same day as Carson and, like him, suffers from a credibility issue because of having never held elected office.

She has gained some attention because of her willingness to take on Hillary Clinton, and the sharpness of her jabs has left people wondering if she is really running for the vice-presidential spot. She disputes that idea.

Fiorina is building her case almost entirely around her stewardship of Hewlett-Packard, which she led as CEO from 1999 to early 2005. It’s hardly a failsafe gambit, as she was ultimately fired from that role. 

9. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

How embattled does Christie feel right now? Enough to empathize with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is becoming embroiled in an alleged cheating scandal. 

Referring to the media’s propensity to “take a couple of shots” at people of whom they are envious, the New Jersey governor last week said of Brady’s troubles, “People like that every once in a while. I think it’s way, way overblown.”

Christie will be hoping the same about reports of the demise of his presidential hopes. 

The “Bridgegate” episode has hurt his chances. A former ally pleaded guilty at the start of this month to charges related to the affair, also apparently telling prosecutors that he had devised the plan with two people closely tied to Christie.

The CBS News/New York Times poll released last week found that 42 percent of Republicans would not even consider voting for Christie — a figure higher than for any other contender.

Serious doubts now hang over whether he will even enter the race.

10. Former Texas. Gov Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryPerry pictured with falcon, sword during trek to Saudi Arabia Trump promised ‘best people’ would run government — they upended it US oil and gas boom will actually help spur energy revolution MORE

Perry is doing lots of the things expected from serious would-be candidates. He was in New Hampshire and South Carolina last week, and also wrote a Wall Street Journal opinion article in which he shifted his position on the Export-Import bank. 

The bigger problem for Perry is overcoming the bad memories of his 2012 run. For some, he will always be the candidate of the “oops” moment when, during a debate, he forgot one of the federal departments he wanted to abolish.

Other possible contenders: Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.),Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, former New York Gov. George Pataki.